A grid of polarization models for Rayleigh scattering planetary atmospheres*
Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland e-mail: email@example.com
Accepted: 27 June 2009
Context. Reflected light from giant planets is polarized by scattering, offering the possibility of investigating atmospheric properties with polarimetry. Polarimetric measurements are available for the atmospheres of solar system planets, and instruments are being developed to detect and study the polarimetric properties of extrasolar planets.
Aims. We investigate the intensity and polarization of reflected light from planets in a systematic way with a grid of model calculations. Comparison of the results with existing and future observations can be used to constrain parameters of planetary atmospheres.
Methods. We present Monte Carlo simulations for planets with Rayleigh scattering atmospheres. We discuss the disk-integrated polarization for phase angles typical of extrasolar planet observations and for the limb polarization effect observable for solar system objects near opposition. The main parameters investigated are single scattering albedo, optical depth of the scattering layer, and albedo of an underlying Lambert surface for a homogeneous Rayleigh scattering atmosphere. We also investigate atmospheres with isotropic scattering and forward scattering aerosol particles, as well as models with two scattering layers.
Results. The reflected intensity and polarization depend strongly on the phase angle, as well as on atmospheric properties, such as the presence of absorbers or aerosol particles, column density of Rayleigh scattering particles and cloud albedo. Most likely to be detected are planets that produce a strong polarization flux signal because of an optically thick Rayleigh scattering layer. Limb polarization depends on absorption in a different way than the polarization at large phase angles. It is especially sensitive to a vertical stratification of absorbers. From limb polarization measurements, one can set constraints on the polarization at large phase angles.
Conclusions. The model grid provides a tool for extracting quantitative results from polarimetric measurements of planetary atmospheres, in particular on the scattering properties and stratification of particles in the highest atmosphere layers. Spectropolarimetry of solar system planets offers complementary information to spectroscopy and polarization flux colors can be used for a first characterization of exoplanet atmospheres.
Key words: polarization / scattering / techniques: polarimetric / planetary systems / planets and satellites: general
© ESO, 2009